Rest the best

The victorious Rest of India team.-ROHIT JAIN PARAS

Rest of India proved too good for Rajasthan. Delhi left-hander Shikhar Dhawan hit a century in each innings, Mumbai strokeplayer Ajinkya Rahane made a hundred in the first and Tamil Nadu youngster Abhinav Mukund a ton in the second. It was a run-feast for Rest which plundered 400 for three on the opening day and dominated the contest right through, winning by 404 runs. Over to Vijay Lokapally.

Has the Irani Cup lost its sheen? Over the years, the one-off cricket match, once considered the most important fixture on the domestic circuit, has become just a ritual. It was introduced at the end of the season in March, 1960, when Delhi's Prem Bhatia had the unique record of a 12th man batting in both the innings. The Irani Cup, in later years, became the season's opening fixture, paving the way for launching many careers. A place in the Rest of India squad was just one step short of a call-up to the national team. But times have changed and the Irani Cup seems to have become just a formality.

Players like Dilip Vengsarkar, Pravin Amre, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and W. V. Raman would have pleasant memories of the Irani Cup. The match helped them gain, and in some cases regain, a place in the Indian team. Vengsarkar's was the most notable performance. He tore into the Rest bowling for a dazzling 110 in Nagpur in 1975, punishing bowlers like Erapalli Prasanna and Bishan Singh Bedi. The knock propelled him into the Indian team. Amre achieved a similar distinction with a 246 in Bangalore in 1990 and a 120 in Faridabad the next year. In Delhi in 1992, Kumble, close to choosing a career outside cricket, grabbed 13 wickets and never looked back thereafter.

Sachin Tendulkar hit a century on his Irani Cup debut and went to Pakistan. The rest is history. In later years, Dravid came into prominence thanks to a 93 at Ludhiana in 1993 and a 132 not out in Bombay the following year. The Irani Cup used to be an elite fixture with the cream of Indian cricket on display. The last star-studded Irani Cup was held in Vadodara in 2008 when Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, Anil Kumble, M. S. Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan turned out for Rest against Delhi, which included Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Ashish Nehra among others.

For host Rajasthan, this Irani Cup, at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium, was a test. The team was geared up to confirm its status as one of the finest teams on the circuit. The pitch had a nice tinge of green and this meant that it was a level playing field for both the batsmen and the bowlers.

But Rajasthan suffered a blow on the eve of the contest and paid dearly too. Pankaj Singh, the most experienced and the most skilful of the pacemen, pulled out a day before the match. His absence put pressure on young Deepak Chahar, who had made a dream Ranji Trophy debut at the same venue last year against Hyderabad with a match haul of 12 for 64, including eight for 10 in the first innings. Unable to come to terms with the responsibility, Chahar went wicketless in the match (none for 168 and none for 67).

Ajinkya Rahane... a well-crafted century.-PTI

Rest of India proved too good for Rajasthan. Delhi left-hander Shikhar Dhawan hit a century in each innings, Mumbai strokeplayer Ajinkya Rahane made a hundred in the first and Tamil Nadu youngster Abhinav Mukund a ton in the second. It was a run-feast for Rest which plundered 400 for three on the opening day and dominated the contest right through, winning by 404 runs.

These three batsmen were the pick even though Rajasthan offered resistance through the seasoned Rashmi Ranjan Parida and the young Robin Bist, both imports, from Orissa and Delhi respectively. For Udaipur left-hander Ashok Menaria, a half century in the first innings was not the best advertisement of his talent.

Rajasthan drew solace from an impressive debut by Aniket Choudhary, who is being trained by former South African seamer Meyrick Pringle in Jaipur. The left-arm seamer bowled a tidy spell in the first innings when the Rest batsmen were on the rampage.

Of the bowlers on view, Varun Aaron and Rahul Sharma came a cropper. Rahul, a lanky leg-spinner from Punjab, was clearly overawed by the situation while Jharkhand's Aaron, touted as the ‘fastest' bowler in the country, was mostly wayward and hardly generated the pace he was expected to.

Pragyan Ojha...nine wickets in the match.-ROHIT JAIN PARAS

Even Umesh Yadav made little impression, barring the brief period on the second day when he and Aaron discomfited the Rajasthan batsmen. The home team, however, did well to survive the third day but collapsed on the final day after Rest once again made merry with the bat, Dhawan and Mukund belting the Rajasthan attack at will.

Dhawan was the ‘Man of the Match' but Rest gained a lot from the handsome contributions by Rahane and Mukund, not to forget some sensible bowling by seamer R, Vinay Kumar and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, who had a match haul of nine for 146.

The scores

Rest of India 663 (Shikhar Dhawan 177, Ajinkya Rahane 152, Mandeep Singh 60, Parthiv Patel 55, Rahul Sharma 52, R. Vinay Kumar 43, Varun Aaron 41, Aniket Choudhary four for 125, Sumit Mathur three for 129) and 354 for two decl. (Dhawan 155, Abhinav Mukund 154) beat Rajasthan 400 (Robin Bist 93, R. R. Parida 85, Ashok Menaria 79, Madhur Khatri 31, Pragyan Ojha five for 86, R. Vinay Kumar three for 74) and 213 (Khatri 53, Parida 37, Ojha four for 60).